Researchers at Duke University, US, have developed a new technique that is claimed to stimulate tissue engineering of functional arteries.

The scientists are seeking to create a system that can be used to test drugs and is more accurate and reliable than animal models.

As part of the research, the scientists have designed artificial arteries that naturally produce biochemical signals, which play a key role in the functioning of arteries.

The artificial arteries are made up of layers of cells that are similar to those present in arterial walls of a human being.

The endothelium is the innermost lining of all blood vessels that interacts with circulating blood and the media is made mostly of smooth muscle cells that help control the flow and pressure of the blood within.

Both the layers communicate through a suite of chemical signals that control how the vascular system reacts to stimuli such as drugs and exercise.

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Duke University biomedical engineering R. Eugene and Susie E. Goodson professor George Truskey said: "We wanted to focus on arteries because that’s where most of the damage is caused in coronary diseases.

"Most previous studies had focused on the media cells but hadn’t spent much time on the endothelial cells, and nobody had shown how the two would interact.

"Many of the techniques for creating artificial tissue also were rather lengthy, which was frustrating."

The arteries were grown in the laboratory for six to eight weeks.

Truskey and the team employed a method that works by putting cells of the desired tissue inside collagen and compressing for a few minutes. This is claimed to squeeze out excess water and increase the mechanical strength of the resulting tissue.

Cristina Fernandez, a graduate student at the university, reduced the size of arteries to one tenth the size of a typical human’s.

Truskey added: "With a smaller diameter, we could make a lot of these artificial vessels in a short amount of time.

"We can make these vessels and use them in only a few hours. To me that was the biggest advance, because spending several weeks on each set was driving me crazy."

"With a smaller diameter, we could make a lot of these artificial vessels in a short amount of time."

The team of scientists has tested the new arteries to evaluate their response to natural and artificial stimuli.

During the first test, statins were administered to see if they would block inflammation as they do in patients.

In another test, researchers observed if chemical signals released from the endothelial cells would cause the media layer to relax and constrict, as they do in the human body.

The study was backed by the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association.

Image: Human arteries are constructed from cells embedded within collagen gels. Photo: courtesy of Duke University.